Volunteers make a difference in the lives of survivors

girl with hans up toward the mountains

By: Lori Loftin, System Advocacy and Education Director

Volunteers have always played an important role in helping survivors of domestic abuse. A key component in that role is the right training. Similar to staff members, volunteers at New Hope Midcoast are specially trained and equipped with tools to help survivors find their own path forward. All new volunteers complete the Comprehensive Advocacy, Intervention, Response and Ethics Training, or CAIRET. Over the course of this 44-hour program, participants learn about domestic abuse, advocacy skills, and resources for survivors. The CAIRET training was developed by advocates and partner organizations across the state. All advocates and volunteers working at any of Maine’s 8 Regional Domestic Violence Resource Centers are trained using the CAIRET curriculum, ensuring survivors receive the same empowerment-focused support.

Much of the CAIRET focuses on the “big picture” of domestic abuse–how it happens and why it persists in our communities and in our world. The training also examines how abuse exists alongside other social and public health issues like substance use, mental illness, forms of violence (child abuse, abuse of older adults, trafficking, and sexual violence), and forms of structural oppression like racism, sexism, and classism. Thinking about violence in the larger societal context helps advocates understand why we do the work in the way we do it. The CAIRET is also an opportunity for new staff and volunteers to become acquainted with the services offered by New Hope Midcoast, from safety planning to legal advocacy to housing support. During the training, staff members share expertise from their areas of focus–legal advocacy, housing support, emergency sheltering, education and prevention.

Other parts of the CAIRET examine practical and tangible approaches for working with clients and building advocacy skills. This includes working with survivors on an individual level, as well as the nuts and bolts of working on the 24/7 helpline. Advocates in Maine are guided by the model of social change advocacy, a framework developed by Praxis International. Social change advocacy is the “specialized practice of empowering and supporting victims of violence against women and facilitating their safety, recovery, rights, and autonomy while also working to reform social institutions, public policy, and to change community norms.” (Praxis International).

The CAIRET teaches new volunteers the core principles of social change advocacy, then provides an opportunity to practice these skills with other advocates. This is done by observing mock helpline calls where trainers demonstrate how to apply advocacy and active listening skills in real-time. As they progress through training, volunteers complete twelve role-playing calls to ensure that they understand how to apply skills and knowledge from the training into their practice on the helpline with survivors.

An essential aspect of the training is learning how to mitigate the effects of secondary trauma. Participants engage in activities about sustainable boundaries and discuss the personal impacts that can sometimes arise from engaging directly with survivors.

The CAIRET training provides a foundation of shared knowledge, ensuring that all volunteers and staff provide survivors with predictable, consistent advocacy through a lens of social change and empowerment. Participants in CAIRET often share how much it changes and shapes their understanding of domestic abuse.

A recent participant stated, “New Hope Midcoast’s training helped me understand how to advocate for survivors while simultaneously empowering them. It was such a supportive learning environment. I really enjoyed getting to learn from New Hope’s staff and absorbing so much information about domestic abuse in our community and our society overall. I can’t recommend it enough!”If you are interested in volunteering on New Hope Midcoast’s 24/7 helpline and would like to attend a future CAIRET training session, please visit newhopemidcoast.org/join-us/volunteer-options/ to apply.